Are There Big Bucks in Daytime Soaps?
By Isobel Silden
The Baltimore Sun
July 27, 1980
The names may not be blaring from the headlines of the movie magazines in the supermarkets, but the top soap opera actors are genuine stars with an adoring--or sometimes angry--public. And there are jealousies, salary disputes and ego problems. Here, in the last of a five-part series, is a look behind the scenes of the soaps.
EVERYONE involved with daytime TV, either as a performer or a viewer, has favorite cherished stories.
Helen Gallagher (Maeve on RYAN'S HOPE) says producer Claire Labine cherishes one specific letter. "It was from a girl who'd been raped. She wrote Helen that the aftermath with the police was so awful, she tried to think of the nicest thing she could. That was Maeve Ryan. Helen cries when she talks about it."
Still, all is not sweetness and light with every actor on every soap. A couple of men, perhaps disgruntled with reason, and asking anonymity for obvious reasons, have said there is an unwritten polity at the networks: if you're on a daytime show, you stay in daytime.
"If a producer went to my network suggesting me and two other actors for a primetime show, I guarantee you I'll not be considered."
John Conboy and Jackie Smith say it's not so.
"It's not true that actors are locked into soaps here. It may be true on the East Coast, because there's nothing else to do," Mr. Conboy says.
Jackie Smith is even more vehement in her denial. "We encourage our daytime people to do movies of the week. And Joyce Selznick, who is doing special casting for the network, has her eye on daytime all the time."
ABC has been conducting new talent hunts all over the country, and of the thousands of aspirants auditioned, many may well get their first acting jobs on daytime shows, due to Ms. Selznick's activities.
Ms. Smith continues, "we have a tremendous crossover between daytime and primetime. LOVE BOAT, for example, uses many daytime people. A lot of actors stay on soaps, because it is not only a security blanket; they have a need to work," she believes.
A previous installment in this series listed some of the actors who made it from daytime to primetime. But some haven't. Perhaps the most notable is William Gray Espy, who was the sex symbol of THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, as Snapper. When he left in 1976, he and everyone else believed it was for big stardom.
It didn't happen. He did some theater in the South, he traveled around the world with a knapsack. He was to be in American Gigolo, but his part was written out at the last minute. According to Jon-Michael Reed, "He swallowed his pride and returned to daytime." He is now seen on ANOTHER WORLD, as Mitch.
It can be a Catch-22 situation. Suzanne Rogers (Maggie on DAYS) explains: "I have trouble getting parts because of my work schedule on the series, and I have to turn down a lot. But on the other hand, when a casting director hires an actress from a soap, he knows she knows her business."
Because they're used to working fast and well, Ms. Rogers completed a guest role in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE in two days, rather than anticipated three.
And, in show business, where the emphasis is on business, and the bottom line if profit, that counts. That also brings us to the wild inequities between daytime and nighttime production costs.
For example: no one will estimate how much Gloria Monty spent revamping GENERAL HOSPITAL. For that matter, when the subject of money comes up, the silence is very, very deep.
What does it cost to produce a show? It varies, depending on whom you ask, and everyone insists their names not be used.
One producers says between $90,000 and $200,000 for an hour, depending on production values. Another estimates an hour show costs $250,000 for five hour-long episodes.
The actors aren't getting megabucks like their counterparts in primetime. Again, it's impossible to ascertain true salaries, or who is best paid.
An executive at ABC says NBC's Macdonald Carey on DAYS OF OUR LIVES makes more more than anybody else. And a spokesperson at NBC says the same thing about ABC's John Beradino on GENERAL HOSPITAL, while someone at ABC thinks Jaime Lynn Bauer on YOUNG AND RESTLESS may make top money.
A few years ago when Time magazine ran a cover on Susan Seaforth Hayes and Bill Hayes, they were quoted as making $100,000 a year each. She merely purred, "I haven't seen the other actors' paychecks."
Some magpie actors believe Beverlee McKinsey (Iris on ANOTHER WORLD) is top lady in the battle of the bucks, and she is in an enviable position: having a starring role in the new TEXAS series starting in August, a spinoff from her current show.
We have listed some of the many top-paid actors of daytime. The so-called "little people" in lesser roles don't make fortunes, but they do earn respectable livings if they get a running role.
Union scale for a 30-minute show is $267.75 a day, and $367.50 a day for an hour show. Most actors receive over scale. So, assuming an actor works two or three days a week, which is the average, at $500 a day in nice round figures, on a 13-week cycle which is the general guarantee, he has earned between $13,000 and $19,500 less than usual governmental deductions and 10 percent to his agent.
That's for 13 weeks, remember. And that, friends, is why so many actors would almost kill for a running role on a daytime series!